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Obama Suffered From ‘Incumbent Debate Curse’

From the AP’s former Washington Bureau Chief, Ron Fournier, at the National Journal:

Incumbent Debate Curse: Barack Obama Falls to Mitt Romney

By Ron Fournier | October 3, 2012

Call it the curse of incumbency. Like many of his predecessors, President Obama fell victim Wednesday night to high expectations, a short fuse, and a hungry challenger.

If Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney didn’t win the first of three presidential debates outright, he more than covered the spread. He was personable, funny, and relentlessly on the attack against a heavily favored Obama.

The president looked peeved and flat as he carried a conversation, for the first time in four years, with somebody telling him he’s wrong…

Privately, some Democratic strategists said the challenger got the best of the president. “We got our clock cleaned,” said a Democratic strategist who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of retribution. The Democrat had reviewed results of polls and focus groups of the debate.

To be fair, the deck was stacked against Obama, who came into the debate with a lead over Romney plus the baggage of incumbency.

First, voters expect sitting presidents to win debates and, indeed, polls showed that Obama was favored Wednesday. That benefits a challenger like Romney who grows in stature simply by standing next to the president.

And the news media telling us for five years that Obama is the most brilliant and articulate person in the history of the world had nothing to do with these high expectations.

Second, challengers have more time to prepare than do busy presidents…

Oh, our sides! Mr. Obama spent the day before the debates touring Hoover dam and going to his local campaign headquarters.

Romney was ready. Finally, incumbents aren’t used to being challenged. Obama’s thin skin showed more than his Hollywood smile.

Which would come as a surprise to George Bush, and every other Republican President. But, of course, this is true for Democrat Presidents. But isn’t that the news media’s fault?

The curse of incumbency struck George W. Bush in 2004, when John Kerry beat him in debates. Bush’s father, George H.W. Bush, was caught impatiently glancing at his watch in 1992.

Mind you, this man who used to be the head of the AP’s Washington Bureau did not get understand President Bush’s pointed gesture. Which was the highlight of the debate.

Jimmy Carter fell victim to the low expectations set for Ronald Reagan in 1980.

Even though the media at the time said Carter won their first debate.

Romney helped himself by looking directly at Obama when he answered questions. Obama looked at moderator Jim Lehrer, which on screen made it appear like he was speaking to the ground.

You see? Obama wasn’t really looking at his rostrum or the ground. He was looking at Jim Lehrer.

Romney smiled and cracked jokes (“I like Big Bird!”). Obama smirked.

But that was theater. When it came to the facts, Romney grossly oversimplified his own platform, presenting himself as a Medicare-loving, regulation-supporting candidate who does not in fact want to cut taxes. It was a clear if not factual parry of Obama.

What a liar that Romney is.

By the way, this is supposed to be a news article. Not an opinion piece. But that is a distinction without a difference for Mr. Fournier.

Still, in politics, optics matter.

Obama didn’t hurt himself with an obvious gaffe. And it’s impossible to predict how the debate will be digested by voters in the next several days as both campaigns put their spin on it; Obama might retain his slight lead in polls.

But it would be hard to argue that Obama achieved his primary debate goal: Describe what he would do in a second term with clear and positive details. Obama did make a forceful plea on behalf of his credibility, answering voters who might doubt his word after falling short of his lofty first-term promises…

Tactically, the president found little time to hit his rival’s softest spots – Romney’s wealth, Medicare policies, and ham-handed dismissal of 47 percent of the public…

Perhaps Mr. Fournier will do a better job preparing Obama the next time.

Fortunately, we have this reassuring op-ed from Bloomberg:

Romney Won Tonight, But Does It Matter?

By Josh Barro | Wed October 3, 2012

The most surprising fact about tonight’s debate is that President Obama spoke for four minutes longer than Mitt Romney did. It certainly didn’t feel like that watching the debate, in which Romney seemed to have far more to say than Obama…

The president had only one really good moment, when he called out Romney for keeping his proposals on health care, taxes and banking regulation secret. Obama, jokingly, asked if the plans were secret because they were too good, or too favorable to the middle class, to describe publicly.

Obama needed to keep up that attack all night, and he could have. Whenever the president discussed an aspect of his policies that was popular, Romney said he supported that, too. Romney said he likes the good parts of Obamacare and the good parts of Dodd-Frank. Whenever Obama raised a negative aspect of Romney’s tax plan, Romney simply insisted that his plan just isn’t so.

In other words, Romney was shaking the etch-a-sketch. He was vulnerable to the critique that he is changing his views to match audience desires and therefore can’t be trusted. But Obama mostly failed to make that point

Hopefully, Mr. Barro will work with Mr. Fournier in preparing Obama for the next round.

There is one big silver lining for Obama: The debates usually don’t do a lot to change how people vote. When they do matter, as with Gerald Ford in 1976, it’s usually because of a major blunder, not a broadly weak performance. Obama did himself no favors tonight, but his weakness probably had little impact on the number of votes he will receive.

Wow. Obama lost so badly the news media are now saying that the debates don’t matter. After telling us they mattered more than anything.

By the way, would they be saying the debates don'[t mater if Obama had won?

This article was posted by Steve Gilbert on Thursday, October 4th, 2012. Comments are currently closed.

4 Responses to “Obama Suffered From ‘Incumbent Debate Curse’”

  1. Chrispbass

    Even the LEFT is saying he lost. He got his clock cleaned. He looked like a fool up there repeating his stupid bullet points (which are being repeated on Fbook as I type). He had no ammunition, how on Earth does he have any chance of success. No record and nothing but empty campaign promises. Of course, R is in the same boat as far as a national record…but that’s not his fault. He deserves a change to deliver empty campaign promises. ;-)
    No analysis of the debate is even required, it was all black and white. Ooooops….I mean it was all ‘clear as day’ as to what went down.
    The look R gives O is priceless. O couldn’t even look at him. It was like a mom staring down a guilty kid.
    This is how impotent O was….I actually watched the debate. Normally, I can take about 2 minutes of O’s BS and then my blood pressure sky rockets, I start yelling at the TV I have to turn it off.

    The debate should be three (3) hours long…break those boys down and let’s see what spills out. Give them a snack and a chair and WEAR them out. Won’t happen though.

    I loved the whole ‘Oil industries get 5 billion in rebates blah blah blah’ and R comes back ‘you gave 90 billion to green energy, Tesla, Solyndra….’ haha….not a whole lot of response to that :D

    ABO 2012!!!!!!

  2. Petronius

    The juxtaposition was violent :

    A washed-up, neo-Marxist community agitator and redistributor versus a successful businessman who understands economics and talks about freedom and the Constitution.

    The best part was that Romney represents everything Nerobama hates –– a happy, successful, rich capitalist, “Wall Street fat cat,” Christian, friend of Israel, pro-American, pro-defense, and straight white male. It was like hitting the trifecta at the Kentucky Derby.

    How that must stick in Nerobama’s craw!

  3. Helena

    I loved it. It was clear as crystal who had the goods and who did not — and never will. Just hope people will believe their own eyes and not what the media tells them they saw.

  4. Anonymoose

    Really, I thought the high altitude in Denver was what made “O” perform so badly. And to say they don’t matter—in their own words look at Bush/Kerry. Bush lost a lot of his lead over Kerry in the debates, but fortunately still won. And the ultimate swing from the debates was Kennedy/Nixon; where we first saw a silver tongued speaker could charm the public and looks did matter. So Kennedy wins and goes off to start the Vietnam War, Johnson follows with his Great Society, and the whole mess is left with Nixon in ’68. Somehow It all became the Republican’s fault and Watergate only showed he was a Sauron like madman who had to be defeated by the combined power of the Hippie movement–yes Ive wandered off topic. But think how our history would have been different if it had been Nixon instead, and it all came down to those debates.

    Also, notice how almost none of the media is looking at how “O” explains his failed policies or makes a case to re-elect him. All they do is take anything Romney says as a gaffe or lie.


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